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Cincinnati delivers the final blow

The Bearcats win a wild, physical game, and with it, the C-USA tournament title, 55-50 against DePaul.

Associated Press
Published March 14, 2004

CINCINNATI - An elbow flew, followed by a fist. Players talked trash as they chased each other down the court. Finally, the pep band struck up the theme from Rocky.

This title game mimicked a prize fight, and once again, Cincinnati was the last one standing.

Tony Bobbitt overcame a punch to the groin, returning to make the decisive shots, and the 13th-ranked Bearcats won another Conference USA tournament championship by beating DePaul 55-50 on Saturday.

"It doesn't matter," said Bobbitt, wearing one of the nets around his neck. "We got the win."

The Bearcats (24-6) survived a tumultuous second half - a technical foul, an ejection, a wild last minute - to get their fourth tournament title. They also won a share of the regular-season championship.

Bobbitt left the game after LeVar Seals hit him in the groin with 8:22 left, drawing an ejection. When he recovered from the low blow, Bobbitt made a pivotal 3-pointer and a driving lay-in that clinched it.

Bobbitt ran down the court with his arms raised like a championship fighter after his lay-in put Cincinnati up 52-45 with 39 seconds left. He was voted the tournament's MVP, finishing with a team-high 17 points.

Seals evidently retaliated for Bobbitt - the Bearcats' notorious trash talker - bending his ear after he hit a 3-pointer on Cincinnati's previous possession.

"I had a couple of words to say. Wow," Bobbitt said. "That's what we're known for, our toughness. We were both talking, and I'm not going to shut my mouth."

DePaul (21-9) shot a season-low 35.3 percent from the field in its second C-USA final. The Blue Demons lost to Saint Louis in the 2000 game, and were glum after losing their composure and another title game.

"They played pretty good defense," said Delonte Holland, who had 17 points. "It was a real physical game. That's all I have to say."

There were two technicals and Seals' ejection in a hard-edged game played only 12 hours after the semifinals ended. There was some recent history involved, of course.

The teams split their season series, with DePaul winning in Chicago last week. That game cost Cincinnati a chance to win the regular season championship, setting up a five-way tie for first place.

"They ruined our chance for the outright title," said forward Eric Hicks, who had 10 points, nine rebounds and a technical foul. "We were looking for payback. Whoever wins the conference tournament is the conference champion to me."

Just as it did during its semifinal win over Alabama-Birmingham, DePaul came out lethargic and fell behind by double-digits. This time, there would be no comeback.

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